The Mosaic Covenant

A Marriage Proposal

Building upon the promise made to Abraham, God entered a new phase of His program for the ages. 0n the day God marked as the first day of the first month (fourteen days before the Passover), the physical birth of the promised nation occurred. Although debated by many scholars, it appears that the day marked the beginning of a new dispensation – an age called “The Dispensation of Law.” During this age, God more fully revealed and implemented many features of his unfolding plan.

During the dispensation of law, which lasted thirteen hundred years, God worked only through His chosen nation. We recall that God gave the Gentile nations up and allowed them to become subjects of the kingdom of Satan. God would fight against the forces of evil through the nation of Israel. Through this chosen nation, to whom He is about to enter a marriage relationship, He would bring forth the promised “Seed of Woman” who would defeat Satan and his kingdom of evil forces.

Without realizing the implications, Israel’s commitment to a marriage relationship with their Creator placed them in an environment that completely revealed the depraved nature of mankind. God showed them, through first-hand experience, that man can’t be obedient to a set of rules or laws while under the bondage of a sin nature.

The Holy Spirit came upon only a few of the chosen leaders of Israel; the people were required to keep the law under the control of the flesh. For the next thirteen hundred years, Israel struggled between a commitment to their Creator/husband and the influence of Satan through the Gentile nations. By the end of the dispensation of law, man’s helplessness was utterly exposed. When this dark reality was adequately demonstrated, God, through His glorious grace, sent “His Light” into the world, The “Lamb of God” and “Seed of Woman,” who would redeem all under the law.

Turning to the new nation’s meeting at Mount Sinai, we observe God’s appointment with His chosen people. Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, youwill be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites’” (Ex. 19:3-6, NIV).

God was proposing marriage to the children of Israel, and never has anyone offered so much to a potential partner. God reminded the people that the whole world belongs to Him. He is the creator of all things and, therefore, controls all things. Satan temporarily controls the world but can be defeated whenever God chooses. The Potter always has control over the clay.

Let us quickly note that, unlike the covenant God made with Abraham, this covenant was conditional upon the people’s response. Even though this covenant was temporary, this fact was not revealed to them at that time. We should also note that this covenant clearly stated the conditions under which God would have fellowship with His people. The questions of redemption and salvation for Israel were settled at the Passover, but the requirements for a living relationship were the present issues.

Exodus 19:7-8 records the response of the people. “So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.’ So Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD” (NKJV).

By this commitment, the people took themselves out of a courtship of grace as subjects of God’s kingdom and placed themselves into a marriage of law by becoming the wife of God. We might question their motivation for this giant step into the unknown. Fear and the need for security probably motivated it to a large extent.

These people had been protected in their bondage but now face new threats in the wilderness. They needed God as a provider and protector. We will see later that they quickly turned their back on God when they found other apparent sources of security. Evidently, there was little love for God on the part of the people. Today, men see God in a loving relationship when they view Him through Jesus Christ and have the Holy Spirit living within them.

We may also ask the question, what was the motivation of God? His love and desire to bless and fellowship with mankind motivated God. This was the reason that He created mankind in the first place.

Before proceeding further, let us examine some Scriptures about this marriage relationship. The prophet Isaiah sums it up best. “‘For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth. For the LORD has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused,’ says your God” (Isa. 54:5-6, NKJV).

In the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah, God reveals that He will take the nation Israel out of the bondage of the law and give them a new covenant. In verse thirty-two, God states: “I was a husband to them” (NASB1995). Also, we are reminded that the entire book of Hosea draws a parallel between Gomer, Hosea’s adulteress wife, and Israel, the adulteress wife of God.

A Marriage Contract

The people took an oath of allegiance and submission to serve God as their lawful, sovereign ruler. God set up a complete system of government known as a theocracy. He would rule over this new state of Israel with divine authority working through His specially elected servants and messengers. The Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Son of God, would lead the way and serve as Chief of Security. He would lead the people into battle and deliver the enemy (Ex. 14:19-31; Ex. 23:20-33; Ps. 34:7; and Ps. 35:5-6).

The theocratic reign, a complete system of government, would govern all facets of the people’s lives. The laws God gave unto Israel, commonly called the Mosaic Law or Levitical Law, fell into three classes: 1) Commandments, which govern moral conduct; 2) Judgments, which govern social order; and 3) Ordinances, which were ceremonial legislations for religious services. Having submitted themselves to the legally binding covenant, the people were to see the manifestation of the Lord’s presence and hear His voice as He explained the details of their agreement. In addition, they were about to hear God’s detailed daily life and worship requirements.

God revealed to Moses that He would speak directly to the people in three days. First, the people had to be sanctified by a cleansing process before standing before Him. Then, they had to wash their clothes and abstain from sexual relations. This entire procedure, a consecration ritual, demonstrated to the people that the approach to God must be taken seriously. Anyone approaching God must be thoroughly aware of His awesome Holiness.

On the third day, the entire congregation of Israel approached the mountain of Sinai. “Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Ex. 19:18, NKJV).

The people had witnessed God’s visual descent upon the mountain. Standing there in fear and trembling, they waited for the curtain to rise on the next act of the divine drama.

And God spoke all these words, saying: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments’” (Ex. 20:1-6, NKJV).

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Ex. 20:7-11, NKJV).

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex. 20:12-17, NKJV).

For the first time, the details of God’s law were given for their review. These Ten Commandments show the directive will of God for all, from Adam to the last person to be born. Before this occasion at Mount Sinai, God’s requirements for man were communicated individually. He states His primary law as the first commandment; “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

When mankind turns away from their Creator, immediately, they begin to create gods from their other interests. Our gods may take the form of people, animals, other objects of the creation, or even pleasures of the flesh. In the first commandment, God clearly states that He is a jealous God, and there can be no other gods before Him.

Upon this foundational commandment, God established specific laws relating to mankind’s relationship to Him and mankind’s relationship to mankind. The first four commandments relate to mankind’s relationship with God; the last six relate to mankind’s relationship with mankind. If we could keep the first commandment, we would have little trouble with the others.

Jesus discussed these laws in the Sermon on the Mount and clarified that they would not be repealed. Jesus stated that we violate the law even when we meditate on evil in our hearts; a physical act of disobedience is not required. To hate your brother is the same as murder; to lust after a woman, who is not your wife, is the same as committing adultery.

God’s laws bind upon all mankind – Jew, Gentile, and Christian alike. They are standards for human moral conduct. Jesus clarified the status of the law in His sermon. “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18, NKJV).

These Ten Commandments were first given to the nation Israel. God spoke directly to the people as He made known His demands. Later, they were written on clay tablets by God’s hand and entrusted to Israel for safekeeping. Israel was God’s channel of blessing to the world, and God would reveal Himself more fully through them.

A vital part of God’s revelation was that we can’t keep God’s law while under the bondage of a sin nature. For the next thirteen hundred years, the sin nature of the Israelites struggled against the perfect law of God. The law served as a mirror reflecting the total depravity of mankind. Now, with the revealed law, sin takes on an additional meaning. Not only is it rebellion against God’s will, but it becomes a direct transgression against His stated laws.

After hundreds of years of bondage to the sin nature of the flesh, God provided a way for mankind to meet the requirements of His law. “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal. 4:4-6, NKJV). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23, NKJV).

The Ten Commandments became the foundation of the Mosaic Law and the fundamental law of the nation of Israel. It was the constitution of the theocratic republic. These principles embraced the whole order of life for God and mankind’s relationships. They encompass, in summary form, the entire law of God. Expanding upon this moral code of conduct, God added other rules governing social order and religious ceremonies.

At the people’s request, Moses went up on the mountain of Sinai to receive the laws and rules governing social order and religious activity. Unlike the commandments, the judgments and sacred ordinances were given only to Israel. In Exodus chapters twenty through twenty-three, we have recorded these laws and rules governing daily living. They have been called “The Book of the Covenant.” This code of law contained rules regarding 1) Provisions for sacrifices; 2) Master and servant relationships; 3) Personal injuries inflicted upon others; 4) Property rights; 5) Crimes against humanity; 6) The land and the Sabbath; and 7) National feast days.

Ordinances (Ceremonial Law)

Israel’s marriage to God consummated a relationship that reflected many of the great things God had planned for mankind. The daily activities in the people’s lives were filled with celestial patterns, examples, types, and shadows to remind them of their special privileges and unique relationship with their God, their Husband. These patterns, examples, types, and shadows looked forward to the person and works of the Christ who would come. However, the unique nature and the future significance of everyday events were not evident in their religious affairs.

Multiple specific rules are discussed in Exodus, Leviticus, and the first ten chapters of Numbers. For example, God required the people to wait at the foot of Mount Sinai until all the details of the ceremonial law were completed. The Levitical rules seem parenthetical to the wilderness march as God tries to ensure that all details are understood.

This becomes clear when we observe that the wilderness march began twice – in Exodus’s last chapter and again in Numbers’ tenth chapter. So many details are given that we often lose sight of specific subjects and miss much of the overall impact. Therefore, we will attempt to organize and focus on some of the details of the Levitical or ceremonial law while observing the new nation camped in the shadow of Mount Sinai.

Why did God choose to set up so many specific rules for the religious ceremonies of the Levitical law? God wanted to clearly set the worship services of the Nation Israel apart from those of the Gentile nations.

The Gentiles performed elaborate ceremonies and offered sacrifices to many gods. Through marriage, Israel was committed to one God who claimed to be the one and only God – the Creator of all things. The Israelites promised to be faithful and accepted His will to direct them. Their faithfulness would be measured primarily by their obedience to ceremonial detail and dependence upon their Creator.

God’s nature is pure and holy. It does not allow Him to fellowship with anything unclean. Therefore, if any person, animal, or object brought into His presence is not properly cleansed, it must be destroyed or rejected. He, alone, established the rituals of purification that must be followed to wash all participants ceremonially.

God’s rules also made it clear to the people that He expected them to recognize Him as the exclusive source of their blessings. His chosen people were given specific instructions regarding returning to Him, a portion of all they received.

God required a return of all firstborn sons, the firstlings of all flocks and herds, the first fruits of the field, and one-tenth of all cattle and produce. In addition, they were told to give Him part of the great wealth they had taken from Egypt. This wealth was used to construct the Tabernacle and clothe the priests. God’s requirements served a practical purpose in supporting the priesthood, but His primary intent was to motivate them to direct their treasures and hearts to Him.

The religious ordinances are also very prophetic and beneficial in teaching by type. The writer of the Book of Hebrews makes it very clear that the Tabernacle, priesthood, and animal sacrifices were prophetic shadows or types that were later fulfilled in the life of Christ.

Likewise, scripture indicates that the national feasts were prophetic, and at least four have been fulfilled. Since we are following the golden thread of Scripture, we will explore, in summary form, the typical teaching of their ceremonial law. Many Biblical writers neglect this emphasis, but it is essential to understand this if we are to see the unfolding eternal plan of God.

Before moving to the next section, which is a detailed description of the Tabernacle, reading chapters seven through ten of the Book of Hebrews would be beneficial. After our study of the Levitical law is concluded, a review of these chapters may also prove rewarding. For those who would like a more detailed study of Biblical types, “Gleanings in Exodus” by Arthur W. Pink and “Tabernacle, God’s Portrait of Christ” by J. Vernon McGee are highly recommended.

The Wilderness Tabernacle (Exodus 25-27)

Throughout the pages of Scripture, we see God’s desire for fellowship with mankind and His efforts to establish a place where we can dwell together. Scripture opens in Genesis with God coming down to walk in the garden with Adam in the cool of the day; it concludes with man fellowshipping with God in the New Jerusalem. The Tabernacle was a significant link in the golden chain stretching from Genesis to Revelation.

The great contrast between God’s holiness and man’s depravity presents a real dilemma that must be overcome for God and mankind to dwell together. Even though God promised He would go with them and help them conquer and possess the Promised Land of Canaan, He would also separate Himself from the people by the boundaries He had set for them upon the mountain.

A special place must be prepared and consecrated for His presence to dwell among them. In addition, a special group of people, known as priests, would have to be selected to serve before the Lord and act as mediators between Him and His people. For this reason, the Lord instructed Moses to collect a special contribution and gave him a detailed list of things to acquire.

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it” (Ex 25:8-9, NKJV).

The Tabernacle has at least three meanings which we must quickly examine: 1) It was to be a dwelling place for the presence of God; 2) It was to be the sanctuary of all religious ceremonies; and 3) It was to be a typical picture of Christ who would come to redeem man from his depravity.

Moses was given every minute detail of the plan for the Tabernacle, even colors, threads, designs, and related trimmings. After the specifications were given, God filled craftsmen with the Holy Spirit (See Ex. 31:3-5) so they would be guided in all workmanship.

Why are all these details regarding perfection in workmanship necessary? Why did God demand perfection in the construction of this Wilderness Tabernacle? The answer lies in verse nine of chapter twenty-five. God told Moses to build the Tabernacle “According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle” (Ex. 25:9, KJV).

Notice that the Wilderness Tabernacle was to be patterned after another Tabernacle. In Hebrews, chapters 8-10, the writer makes it clear that the Wilderness Tabernacle was patterned after the Lamb of God, who is in heaven. Let us not forget that Christ, the Lamb of God, was slain in God’s mind before the world’s foundation (I Peter 1:19-20). Therefore, it is fitting that the Wilderness Tabernacle was patterned after Christ and that it foreshadowed Christ and the work that He would complete on the cross.

Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® 2011 by Zondervan Corporation.  Used by permission. All rights reserved. Used with permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked NASB1995 are taken from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1971,1977, 1995, by The Lockman Foundation, LA Habra, California.  Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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